Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Brew Day: Pale Mild

Brew LogOnce summer hits its stride here in Chicago, home-brewing in an apartment without air-conditioning becomes increasingly difficult.  Its not just the constant worrying about the various beers I have aging without temperature control.  There’s also the fact that its difficult to justify having a pot full of wort at a rolling boil in the kitchen when the apartment is already hot and humid.  So, for the next few months at least, I probably won’t be able to brew as much as I would like---and since I already have a lot of saisons and sours in the pipeline, I’ve decided to focus on the drink I love the most: pale, bitter English beer.

This brew day was actually a warm up for all of this.  For one thing, the pale mild I brewed is really an over-sized yeast starter to make sure I’ll have healthy pitches of the WY1469 for the next month or two.  But I also wanted a simple brew day so that I could begin focusing on various changes in my process, all made with a view to improving the overall quality of my beers.

I think I’ve been making solid beers without obvious off-flavours for at least a year now, and over the last few months there’s been a few standouts that I’ve been really happy with.  But there’s plenty of room for improvement, and since I think I have fermentation under control I’ve begun to focus more closely again on the production of wort.  Purchasing a pH meter a few months ago has given me a window into my mashes that I’ve never had before, and as a result I’ve begun to pay closer attention to things like water additions and mash pH.  But since I’ve recently been brewing beers that pick up acidity from bacteria during fermentation, its been hard to tell how much of a difference these changes have made.  Hopefully coming back to English styles for a while will help me to better understand how water chemistry and wort composition affect my final beer.

To help me focus on this, I’ve designed a brew day log sheet to keep track of the various additions and measurements I make along the way.  When I first started brewing I tried using some of the excellent brewing logs available online (e.g. Randy Mosher’s or Kai Troester’s), but since I didn’t really understand some of what I was recording and the rest of the brew day was still new to me, it was easy to lose focus and end up with half-completed sheets.  As I got more comfortable with my process I started making more of an effort to record things in BeerSmith, but my computer is at the opposite end of the house from the kitchen, so its still easy to let thing slip. 

The advantage of designing my own sheet, rather than going back to using Kai Troester’s, is that I can structure it around my own process during brew day.  I wrote the sheet by sitting down and going through the whole process in my imagination, working out the points at which it would be helpful to have measurements or records.  I then wrote out a very basic document, arranged in a linear order to match what I did at each point in my brew days, so that it would be easy to remember to make and log measurements at each point.  Inevitably I thought up various modifications as I brewed today, and I’m sure I think up more over the coming months: but as things stand I should now have accurate information about things like water additions and final water profile, mash pH, boil pH, pre-, mid-, and post-boil gravities, boil-off, etc, where before at least some of this information was always missing.  Hopefully this will put me in a better position to understand the changes that affect my beers.  (I’m happy to send a copy of my log sheet to anyone who wants it, or to post it here---but I think it makes more sense to come up with your own version based on your understanding of your brew day process.)

Anyway, enough waffling.  The brew day went smoothly enough, though I did have trouble getting the wort down to pitching temps.  It’s perhaps worth commenting on the beer itself.  Pale milds are a rarity in an already rare style (although back in Liverpool I could reliably find Timothy Taylor’s Golden Best at The Caledonia).  The recipe is my own, and I make no claims for its authenticity or quality(this is my first time brewing it).  One thing I will say is that its interesting to compare popular homebrew recipes for Mild to historical or even modern commercial versions.  Home brewers tend to include large amounts of crystal malt in their milds, in quantities that add significant body and sweetness to the final beer.  Historical and commercial recipes, on the other hand, often include a large proportion of adjuncts like dark brewing sugars and flaked maize, which are usually understood as ingredients that will lighten a beer and help it dry out.  It looks like we’re brewing completely different beers.

I’m not going to suggest that one approach is better than the other, though I have my preference.  The home brewer approach is no doubt partly a result of attempts to add body and flavour to these low-gravity beers.  Traditional milds have the advantage of being served from a cask fresh, at cellar temperature, and with low carbonation, all of of which tend to impart a perception of increased body, and help to bring out subtler flavours that are lost when the beer is cold.  This is difficult to achieve if you’re serving beers from the fridge via a keg or bottle, so home brewers have to take different means to the same end.  However, I think some American home brewers also tend to think of milds as sweet beers (malty and sweet are often equated with each other), and this, in my experience at least, is somewhat inaccurate.  The milds I’ve had back home are all refreshing, light, drinkable beers, neither cloyingly sweet nor pretending to clock in at a higher gravity than they have.  That, at any rate, is the kind of mild I’ve enjoyed drinking, which is why I’ve included both invert sugar and corn in this recipe.


Measured O.G. 1.034
Measured F.G.
Mash: 154°F
48.9% Mild Malt (Paul’s)
36.5% Pearl Malt (Fawcett)
4.9% Flaked Corn      
9.8% Invert #2      
Fuggles (U.S.) 60 20.4 IBUs (25g @ 4.1%)
WGV 15 2.8 IBUs (10g @ 5.3%)
WY1469 (West Yorkshire)

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